With summer on the horizon, the promise of warm weather and time away from school and work has us dreaming of our next adventures, and as ever, Europe reliably draws us with its inimitable blend of tradition and modernity. As exchange rates continue to trend favorably for American travelers between the U.S. dollar, the euro and the British pound, a trip to Europe now is even more appealing. To help you prepare for your summer abroad, we weigh in with tips and considerations to help you get the most out of your European holiday.
The popularity of these time-honored destinations is well deserved: Each city has at one time held the reins of Western civilization, and the trappings they’ve accumulated as Europe’s cultural capitals are significant. But with popularity come the crowds, and the high season in Europe can quickly become unbearably busy if it isn’t planned for. Though centuries of hosting travelers have led to a supply of fine accommodations, be sure to book your stay as far in advance as possible to avoid disappointment. Keep your cool during summer in Europe’s classic cities with these additional tips.
When packing, be mindful about the possibility of a summer heat wave. Temperatures rarely rise above 75°F (24°C) in Paris, but when they do it can be really uncomfortable since you’re unlikely to find air conditioning outside of your hotel room. And, of course, you want to spend time at all the wonderful outdoor cafés, but the heat can make it much less fun, especially if you’re not mentally prepared.
Think about what you want to see and do, and consider how crowds might affect your travel plans. Sunny weather is a rarity in London even during the summer, so when it’s nice out, you can expect outdoor attractions to fill up quickly. A little-known fact, though, is that in August the city is surprisingly empty since it’s the month that many locals leave for their own travels. While this means fewer crowds, you might find that more shops are closed as well.
We like to combine the excitement of Rome with restful day trips outside of the city. This might include a quiet walking tour of a hilltop town, with a stop at a local wine cellar for a tasting, then proceed to an olive-oil mill for another tour and tasting. Lunch can be enjoyed leisurely at one of the many local restaurants that your guide would happily recommend. In the late afternoon, your driver can transfer you back to your hotel in Rome after a relaxing, stress-free day.
For a unique and glamorous experience that maximizes sightseeing and relaxation, a cruise may be just right for you. As lovely as it is to savor country drives through Provence, the Scottish Highlands or myriad other European locales, or to wind through the Alps taking in views from a rail car, time and logistics often prevent us from such diversions. Much is to be said, too, for the great ease of combining luxurious accommodations, excellent meals and well-crafted excursions on an all-inclusive cruise. And of course, there is the pure joy of arriving by sea in Portofino or Santorini, or navigating Norway’s fjords in the tradition of ancient seafarers. And your options are certainly not limited to the coast: the rising popularity of river cruises has led to an increase of exceptionally outfitted ships. Whatever combination of culture and climate appeals, from the sun-drenched Mediterranean to the tranquil beaches and rugged islands of the North Sea, the all-inclusive nature and variety of destinations of European cruises are hard to beat in value. For the best fares and cabin selection, we suggest booking your cruise at least eight to ten months in advance.
Europe’s diversity of culture and geography is one of its greatest draws; you can pick just about anywhere on the map, and you’ll find compelling reasons to visit. Here are a few less conventional summer destinations that have been on our minds of late.
Tourism is still an emerging industry in Portugal, and the locals seem happy to remain under the radar. Since little thought goes toward accommodating tourists, the cities and sights retain a welcome sense of authenticity that busier destinations lack. Lisbon is a historic, world-class city of color and music that remains affordable for European standards, and the exceptional wines produced among the quintas of the Alentejo and the Douro Valley are rarely exported. The moderate coastal climate means the summer heat is seldom oppressive.
Dotted with medieval villages, fairytale castles and lederhosen-clad locals, Germany’s southern reaches offer a lovely old-world ambiance. Munich balances its signature taverns with haute cuisine, wonderful museums and charming parks, and plentiful attractions keep crowds small before the excesses of Oktoberfest. Summer months are cool in the rolling green foothills of the Bavarian Alps, and the countryside yields sensational views of Alpine scenery along with the extraordinary palaces of 19th-century King Ludwig II. If you plan to visit his most famous castle, Schloss Neuschwanstein, arrange reserved entry to avoid long summer lines.
The criminally underappreciated Baltic countries—Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia—make especially attractive summer destinations, as the extra-long daylight hours afford plenty of time to amble the extraordinary cities, whether it’s among the well-preserved medieval architecture in Tallinn or Riga’s extensive Art Nouveau district. Encounters with the region’s delightful folk traditions are not uncommon outside the cities, and places like unspoiled Muhu Island have the effect of returning you to the 16th-century, but with superb accommodations and cuisine. Though summer cruise ships can crowd ports like Tallinn, they usually depart in the late afternoon, meaning the wonderful long evenings are relatively quiet.
Lombardy’s energetic hub, Milan, is known as Italy’s worldly business and fashion capital. But beyond the major boutiques of this fast-paced metropolis sits a wealth of remarkable art and architecture, notably Milan Cathedral, La Scala opera house and Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper. However, the magnificent glacial lakes—chiefly Lake Como, Lake Garda and Lake Maggiore—form the heart of the region’s appeal. Each features stunning displays of Mediterranean color amidst towering Alpine scenery, and the presence of shore-lining celebrity villas dates back to the classical era. June is the preferred month to arrive, as the waters begin to warm and the gardens are in full bloom. Lake Como is most popular with visitors, though the appeal is such that it remains undiminished by tourism.
The Emerald Isle is enjoying a boom after the economic downturn of recent years, and visitors will enjoy enhancements that include a new luxury train and significant updates to some of the country’s most outstanding hotels. Bustling Dublin has climbed the ranks to join Europe’s finest cities, particularly for family travel, and expertly blends traditional charm with cosmopolitan convenience. Ireland’s postcard-perfect landscapes are justifiably regarded as some of the world’s most beautiful, especially on the rugged western coast. Summer tourists tend to congregate toward the southern end of the island along the excellent Ring of Kerry driving route; aim for early June or late September to avoid heavy crowds. Irish weather is consistently mild, though it’s wise to expect rain.
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